The holidays may be over, but January can still be a time of celebration by bundling up and heading to the Niagara Icewine Festival.
Kicking off last weekend with the opening gala in Niagara Falls, Ont., the festival continues until Jan. 31, with many events, tours, and tastings. (See photos from the opening weekend below)
Ontario’s Niagara Region produces 90 per cent of the world’s icewine, putting Canada on the map for award-winning vino. The climate near the Niagara Escarpment generates warm summers and frigid winters, perfect for the creation of the golden and ruby-coloured sweet juice that wins many Canadians’ hearts.
But with more than 40 wineries taking part in the festival, you may be wondering the best way to (responsibly) experience so much wine in so little time. Here’s how to make the most of the region’s popular festival.
Get a Discovery Pass
Plan wisely and purchase a Discovery Pass, which allows visitors to have eight tasting experiences ranging from the fancy to the funky at wineries across the region. A good place to start your journey is in the Twenty Valley area where cocktail enthusiasts can sip on Megalomaniac’s cherry vodka and chocolate liqueur icewine martinis.
Explore new tastes
At Fielding Estate Winery, the Cabernet Franc icewine is uniquely paired with chili cheese nachos with crumbled bacon and blue cheese.
Heidi Fielding, one of the owners at Fielding, says that the festival opens people’s minds to the possible pairing options available with icewine, making Canadians more willing to break out the bottles rather than save them for special occasions. “You don’t have to wait and have foie gras with your icewine, or wait until New Year’s Eve. Open it up.”
Put the ice in icewine
Closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, tourists at Peller Estates roast large square icewine marshmallows over outdoor firepits. Peller also offers tours of the property that give visitors the chance to experience what an icewine grape feels like as they enter the 10 Below Room.
“We’re the first winery in the world to have a 10 Below Room,” says Renee Wright, who provides tours at Peller. With the room kept at the same temperature grapes must reach to become icewine, everyone who ventures inside the chilly lounge dons a parka and gloves, entering an icy igloo-like room complete with an ice bar and a sculpted icewine bottle as tall as a person.
Join the party
Next weekend, the wineries take over the Old Town in Niagara-on-the-Lake, closing down Queen Street for the street festival.
“A lot of people come out to that event,” says Jeff Letvenuk, the marketing manager at Pillitteri Estate Winery. “Imagine the beautiful setting of Old Town, with the cenotaph right in the middle, and all these little tents, with all the wineries set up with barrels and wooden tables, pouring icewine.”
Relax off the beaten track
If you need a break from the tastings, take a horse-drawn carriage through the Old Town, wonder into the shops and galleries, or relax at one of the spas. Consider a facial at the Spa at 124 , where the strawberry rhubarb exfoliant and lime stimulating masque tingle your skin, bringing a rosy glow to your cheeks.